Robert Kapsis, professor of sociology and film studies at CUNY and author of Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation (Chicago, 1994).
For Kapsis, the new technology of the CD-ROM is revivifying film studies by paradoxically directing us back to film criticism of the past. "The Rebecca Project (Rutgers, 1995), produced at the University of Iowa, features movie frames, photographs, publicity stills, original ads, and more than sixty film clips from Hitchcock's first American film, made in 1940. It also includes several of the best critical essays on the movie. It turns out that juxtaposing criticism with actual film clips makes good, old-fashioned close analysis seem more useful than ever." Kapsis also recommends another CD-ROM, Richard Prelinger's To New Horizons: Ephemeral Films, 1931-1945 (Voyager, 1987). "It features footage from more than thirty industrial films made in the United States, along with insightful and often amusing essays on what each film reveals about American consumer culture. Without this effort, these films would have been buried."
Constance Penley, professor of film studies and women's studies at the UC-Santa Barbara, and co-editor of Male Trouble (Camera Obscura).
"I've been working on a manuscript on popular science and sex in America, so I haven't been reading a lot of film books lately-but ask me anything about Mormons in space! Two books spring to mind, however. Sharon Willis's essays collected in High Contrast: Race and Gender in Popular Film (Cornell, forthcoming) are tour de force readings of the extraordinarily weird versions of masculinity concocted by directors David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and William Friedkin. Alexander Doty's Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture (Minnesota, 1993) brilliantly argues that film and television are so pervaded by gay signs and meanings that they could only be consumed by a mass audience that is far queerer than it knows."
Thomas Doherty, chairman of the film studies program at Brandeis and author of Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture and World War II (Columbia, 1993).
Doherty lauds a movement "toward solid, plain-speaking film criticism. Where media scholars used to genuflect to Foucault, Althusser, and Derrida, they now seek enlightenment from press kits, studio memos, and actual human beings. A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1980, by Jeanine Basinger (Wesleyan, 1994), typifies the best of the new trend. Basinger interprets a rich assortment of classic Hollywood women's weepies, films noir, and romantic melodramas, and writes about them with intelligence, sensitivity, and epigrammatic wit."
Robert Sklar, professor of cinema at New York University and author of City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (Princeton, 1992).
"If there's a breakthrough in film studies," says Sklar, "it involves the cumulative effect of works that bring the formerly marginalized into the center of discourse. Streetwalking on a Ruined Map: Cultural Theory and the City Films of Elvira Notari, by Giulana Bruno (Princeton, 1993), is a masterly synthesis of history and theory-a Foucauldian detective story that explores the urban landscape of early cinema. Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film, by Ed Guerreo (Temple, 1993), is a trenchant study that examines both the representation of blacks in mainstream movies and African-American filmmaking."
Jane Feuer, professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and author of The Hollywood Musical (Indiana, 1982) and Seeing Through the Eighties: Television and Reaganism (Duke, 1993).
Feuer recommends The Films of Vincente Minnelli, by James Naremore (Cambridge, 1993). "Buried in the depths of the stodgy Cambridge Film Classics series (a.k.a. Male Critics Canonize Male Auteurs) is this gem of a book about the greatest not-quite-canonized Hollywood director ever," says Feuer. "By situating Minnelli in a tradition of dandyism and aestheticism, and revealing the significance of his background in art direction and popular culture, Naremore brings the insights of ideology and queer theory to bear upon the legend of the auteur, showing how much light these seemingly opposed ways of looking at film can shed upon each other."
James Schamus has produced, among other films, The Brothers McMullen (1995), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), and the forthcoming Sense and Sensibility.
Don't look for Schamus's favorite book in your neighborhood Barnes & Borders. "A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book, by the filmmaker Stan Brakhage (Frontier Press, 1971), is a small miracle of a chapbook from this perenially un-hip avant-gardist. It starts off as a hands-on how-to (telling the difference between the base and emulsion sides of a strip of film, threading the projector, etc.), and ends with a tone poem on vision that's up there with John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." I'm sure Brakhage's book is impossible to find (my copy was a gift found in a print shop), but then, that's half the pleasure of holding it."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.